Melrose Abbey, known as the most famous ruin in Scotland, is a great addition to a trip to Scotland. The abbey features the picturesque remains of an old monastery and its grounds, and it's accessible from Edinburgh or Glasgow. It's part of an area known as the Scottish Borders, which is also home to Abbotsford House, Paxton House, and Thirlestane Castle, as well as dozens of charming villages and small towns. Melrose Abbey can be found in the town of Melrose near the River Tweed and it's a great visit for those interested in the history of Scotland or medieval history overall.
Allow at least an hour for a tour of the abbey and its grounds, and consider taking some extra time to explore Melrose itself. Melrose Abbey welcomes visitors year-round, so it's possible to include it on your itinerary any time of year. Don't miss the abbey's memorable sculptures, which can be spotted during your visit with the help of a map from the visitor's center.
History and Background
Founded by David I, Melrose Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland. It was built in 1136 and housed monks until 1590, when the site became a parish church. Many historic figures have been buried at the Abbey over the years, including Alexander II. Robert the Bruce's heart was also buried at Melrose, although his actual body was laid to rest at Dunfermline Abbey.
Over the years, Melrose Abbey has seen a lot of destruction and change. The building was pillaged and burned by Edward II’s army in 1322, and in 1385 it was set on fire by Richard II. The site was rebuilt over the following century, mostly by Robert the Bruce himself.
Today, only a small part of the original church has survived. Most of the current structure was built after 1385 and includes several notable sculptures, which visitors can discover as they explore the site. The Abbey also offers a glimpse of what monastic life was like during the Middle Ages and many objects from the time have been preserved in the Abbey's museum, from cooking pots to urinals.
What to See
The abbey church is the primary attraction at Melrose Abbey, but there are several other details to note during your visit. Look for the Chapter House, believed to be where Robert the Bruce's heart was buried, and Commendator’s House Museum, which was built in the 1500s and showcases the collection of medieval objects. A map is available to help guide people to each notable spot around the grounds, including the iconic sculpture of a bagpipe-playing pig. There is also a visitor's center, a picnic area, and a small shop.
How to Get There
Melrose Abbey is located in the town of Melrose in Roxburghshire. While it's easiest to arrive by car, it's also possible to use public transportation. Travelers coming from Edinburgh should take a train to Tweedbank, where you can find a local bus (or take a taxi) to Melrose Abbey. The train journey from Edinburgh is only an hour, making it a good option for those without a car. There is a dedicated public parking lot near Melrose Abbey for cars and tour buses, which includes one accessible space for disabled visitors. On-road parking is also available.
What to Do Nearby
Not far from Melrose Abbey is Abbotsford House, the ancestral home of Sir Walter Scott, which makes for a good second stop when you're in the area. The stately home, located on the River Tweed, features an exhibition on the life and legacy of the writer, a gift shop, and a restaurant called Ochiltree’s Dining. Traquair House, a 12th century stately home, is also a good stop in the Borders.
Tips for Visiting
- The visiting hours for Melrose Abbey vary based on the season, so it's best to check online before heading to the site. High season is considered April 1 through Sept. 30, but the Abbey is open year-round with the exception of Dec. 25 and 26, and Jan. 1 and 2. Buy tickets online in advance to help save time at the entrance.
- Occasionally, Melrose Abbey is forced to close due to adverse weather conditions. Check online for potential closures when visiting during stormy weather. When visiting in the winter, be sure to bundle up as most of the experience is outdoors.
- Purchase one of Scotland's Explorer Passes for 33 pounds (for a three-day pass) if you plan to visit more than one attraction besides Melrose Abbey. The pass, which can be purchased online, includes admission to 70 historic attractions around Scotland, as well as discounted audio guides at Edinburgh and Stirling Castles and Glasgow Cathedral.
- Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult when visiting Melrose Abbey, so be sure to keep your family together while exploring the grounds.
- While Melrose Abbey has made several efforts to be accessible to handicapped visitors, some of the terrain and buildings may be challenging. The paths are made of gravel and grass and there are several sets of stairs involved in accessing some of the site, so it's best to be aware when visiting. Specific details of Melrose Abbey's accessibility is available on their website.
- Dogs are allowed at Melrose Abbey, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Dogs, with the exception of guide dogs, cannot enter any of the roofed areas and should not be left unattended.